As more time progressed with my immersion in bikes, I realised how I enjoyed working on them – spending time tinkering on them, to improve their performance and their rideability. I had over the previous couple of years progressively lost interest in high school. I never recovered from that position. I felt quite a disconnect to school. I couldn’t see much relevance to it, and so I started considering my options. I talked through a number of options with numerous school counselors and career advisers. Whilst there was concern expressed for my long-term interest in engineering at a trade level, I embarked on finding a suitable motorbike dealership to join to learn the trade of motorcycle maintenance.
(Motorcycle Schematics 2016a, b,c)
Unfortunately, I immediately found out that at the time it was not possible in my state to gain an apprenticeship in a motorbike shop. I had to first do any required training on cars, and then once qualified, I could use my developed generic skills to gain a job in a motorcycle repair shop. It was therefore going to take a bit longer than I anticipated to embark on my interest of being a professionally motorbike tweaker. However, I recall thinking that this option certainly had more incentive for me than remaining at high school.
I had helped my dad occasionally do minor repairs and services to the family cars while growing up. My parents had always owned older Peugeot cars, one of three (3) French manufacturers a local dealer sold and serviced. So I submitted a hurriedly typed resume for consideration. I recall it was as short as two days later that I got a call for an interview. Apparently my high school grades were good, despite my declining interest over the previous few years, and the local French car dealership principal and head technician apparently saw a quality in me that satisfied them of my employability.
(Peugeot schematics 2016a,b)
In December, about 3 months after my sixteenth (16) birthday, I commenced my first full-time job. I rode my bicycle to work four (4) days a week, and then caught a train in the opposite direction to go to trade school one day per week.
I found trade school easy relative to others in the class, Most of the initial instruction was what I would call common sense. But again I found the small talk awkward. There were a lot of first generation Australians in the class – mainly from European backgrounds. We all thought it was ironic that I with my seventh (7) generation Australian heritage was specialising on European cars, and the others of European heritage with training on Australian-based manufacturers of Holden and Ford. I quickly realised I had a great opportunity as the French manufacturers provided large amounts of specialty training. Almost every quarter I was sent to one of the three French car manufacturers we represented, to their local city head office to be trained and certified in particular models or features. I invested in tools, and by the end of the first year I had purchased (across the many twelve (12) months) a quality set of trade tools that were the envy of most of the fully-qualified technicians.
(Stahlwille Tool Kit 2016)
It is interesting to note that at the time, the industry was transitioning from what we were learning at trade school in terms of metal or electrical work, repairing damaged or faulty parts; to what was essentially parts replacement. That is, if a part was damaged in any way, then you were instructed by the manufacturer to replace that part with a new part; rather than spending time trying to fix the old damaged or faulty part. In the dealership workshop in the first three (3) months, I was given a lot of menial duties that the dealership principal saw fit (not uncommon in an apprenticeship arrangement): such as running errands, washing cars and cleaning the workshop. I didn’t expect more, given we were only being instructed on the basics of entering the trade in the first months of trade school. Despite being my first full-time employment, I found I was able to talk relatively easily to the adult peers about work-related matters. I was very focussed on learning the technical skills, and seize any opportunity to advance my knowledge and skill set.
I do recall in my deep reflection for this narrative that I was not one to engage in small talk such as everyday conversation in the workplace. I recall letting most small talk conversations wash over me. In our workshop we had one of the first female engineering apprentices in the state. I recall she had also won the apprentice of the year, the year prior to my commencement – no mean feat against 99.99% of male peers across the state. Her dad was an engineer, and she had been working on cars with him for most of her life. I learnt a lot from her. Apart from her great focus on developing her technical skills, I observed how she stood up for herself to the other male technicians in their not always gender respectful workshop banter.
Having come from my own mowing and pool business, I found I could communicate with the customers well. I guess they came to trust my care of their prized automobiles, and I think also my listening to the issues that had them bring in their car in to be attended to. As the company I was working for had a relative high staff turnover, I had an increasing opportunity to assist in the service office.
At about six (6) months into my apprenticeship I was getting used to the working routine. Up everyday at about 6:20am, breakfast, shower, dress and leave home by bicycle to be at work by 8:30am. There were days when I thought about my decision to leave school, but I was gaining knowledge and doing well, so any doubts were only fleeting thoughts.
At around this time, my dad arrived one evening, and called a meeting with my mother and me. The told me he had been given a job opportunity within the global organisation that he had worked for the past eight (8) years– an overseas transfer to lead a third world region in his area of speciality. They were moving. I asked when? “They want me there in ten (10) weeks from now” my Dad replied. “That’s less than three (3) months from now?” I enquired hoping someone had misunderstood. “Yes, that’s right..”
I was presented with three options – to quit my job and study, and move to the UK and go back to high school as a boarder; or to move into an apartment and look after my self, while continuing to work. The third option of me going with them to Africa was not an option due to the lack of opportunities for me to work in East Africa – Kenya for someone my age and my interests.
I recall thinking……. oh shit!!! Whilst there was a lot to like about my parents leaving for an overseas posting, there was also something I was fearful of – independence. Not that I didn’t want it – I very much did – in theory! But, I also inherently knew that I had only limited experience with being independent. My mother controlled just about everything we did, said or thought, and therefore I would say we were not raised with a view to develop our independence in a natural way. My recent striving for independence over the previous few years resulted more from one of rebellion than natural gaining of independence. I knew I needed to break free. Now I was working – and for a dealership principal who I was discovering was tyrannical – I began to realise that I was controlled – micro-managed in many respects – by my mother in a very autocratic way. Life in our family for me was about doing chores, homework, and then – and only then – I was allowed to play. I can see having engaged in this deep reflective practice task – with the benefit of many years of education & learning, executive management and governance experience, that such a parental approach is actually counter productive for empowerment and developing independence in anyone. In fact, such an approach actually promotes dependence via compliance (see blog Leadership Part 1 for more on this).
On the one hand I could see that before me was a junction – a cross-road that could potentially change the course of my life. And yet, I held a very healthy dose of fear for what what was about to occur. I recall my world starting to spin…
“What about our dog Trixie?” I enquired..
“Well, we have thought about it …. we would have to give her away…..” was the response
“She (Trixie) spends some time down the road with that family, how about we ask them if they want her”…
I recall my world starting to spin very out of control. And yet, I did not at that time in my life have the presence of mind – the maturity – to realise and articulate the implications of what was about to happen. I knew in the depths of my soul what the implications of what they were suggesting, but I was not mature or in touch with my self enough, to stand my ground.
As the clock wound down – six (6) weeks out, I got cold feet, and thought how could I do this. I had to learn to cook, to clean, to iron and shop – let alone pay utilities and balance the accounts. I considered one of the original options – to move to the UK and go back to school; but I figured if i didn’t like high school in Australia, then why would high school in a foreign country – boarding – be any more cool?
So feeling I had little choice, I stayed behind, to move into a flat. My parents rented two apartments in the same block, with the idea to get a distant relative to live in the other one, in order to maintain some oversight over me.
The clock ticked down – four (4) weeks to go… the apartments were secured for us to move in. It was close to my technical school that I went to one day per weeks, and on a train line. I was going to need a train line to get to work everyday, as i was still three (3) months short of being eligible to apply for the permits to commence learning to drive a car. Once I had this permit, I then needed to learn to drive and had another three (3) months before I could take a test to gain a car driver’s licence.
Then three (3) weeks out, the family house was sold the house….
Then two (2) weeks out, the family down the road agree to take Trixie – on the one condition – that it was to be permanent, and “not just looking after her for a while”. My heart sank to a new all-time low. My spirit died a little, without me being able to articulate what was going on….. Trixie had a sense with all of the movement around the house – packing boxes, and out of the ordinary routine – that something was about to go down, but of course, we couldn’t really talk about that.
Then one (1) week to go, it was time. It was time to move out of our house, and into the new apartment to settle and adjust before my parents flew out for the start of their new life. It was at this time that I had to say goodbye to Trixie. I still remember the time. It was 5:30pm in the evening. The sun was lowering, and so while there was still some light available, I took her down to the new family and handed over her things – her blanket, her collars, walking leads, feeding bowls and all of the reserves of food that we had. We said our goodbyes, but I was deliberately trying not to make too much of a fuss. I was going to come back and visit her on a regular basis – she had some young little kids in the new family to look after, and who adored her, as we in our family did. I walked out the door and back up the street, without looking back. I couldn’t look, because I didn’t want her to see, the tears flowing down my face. I had been convinced by my parents that this was to be the only way, and the best for her.
I didn’t look back… I couldn’t.. I had to move on…
I went back to the house, and we all stood in silence, not wanting to speak. Slowly, we returned to doing what was before us – the final pack of the last few things to put in the car, lock the house, and drive away. But it is what happened next, that perhaps revealed the degree of heartbreak that we were all feeling – not only me but the whole family, including I am sure, the sixth member, Trixie.
All of a sudden, catching us all off guard, we could hear Trixie’s tail tapping against the door frames and walls, telegraphing to us all that she was back in the house. She was whimpering – almost crying – head tucked down, and looking for all of us i never room… She knew something was up, she knew something was up.. If I didn’t know better, I would say she was feeling exactly the same as us. I knew that she knew something was up….
Over a decade after this event occurred, upon returning to Australia I proactively engaged in developing my creative practice. I attended many creative writing and personal development courses to learn to better tap into my creativity. As an integral part of many of these courses was an exploratory process of one’s creative self that involved tapping into one’s past events and experiences. Yes – reflecting, considering, and writing about them in a creative way. The following prose is what came out in one such course I attended, with relative ease if I recall correctly. To this day, I can not articulate succinctly what transpired on this final day of leaving our family house when our family dog came back to see us, better than this prose. I would therefore like to offer this prose as the final paragraph of the above narrative – this significant event, Age 16. It was, and still remains, my first heartbreak.
I hope that through my narratives to date, it is becoming clearer that I was not so skilful at articulating my self at this time – my thoughts, opinions or emotions. I trust that this prose captures the inner turmoil I was feeling at the time of this most significant event.
With over 20 years experience in the arts & post-compulsory education, David has lived, studied and worked Internationally including Japan, India, Fiji, the US and NZ.
David has extensive interests as per the extensive blogs hosted on his site (see below).
Additionally, David has published in both lay texts and academic (peer-review) publications.